The 14th Sunday after Pentecost August 29, 2017
39, 388, 373(1-5,7), 377(10)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My Word has no place in you.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
People speak of “freedom” in many ways. On the way home this week I heard a popular radio personality declare that he had reached a point in his career at which he does not have to do anything that he doesn’t want to do. He has a kind of freedom.
Some people have paid off all their bills and their mortgage. They are “debt free.” Last Each July Americans celebrate the fact that we live “in the land of the free.” We have many freedoms in our country, for example, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion.
I can’t remember a time when the people of our country have been so concerned about losing many of our cherished freedoms. The Devil would like nothing better than to convince us that the greatest evil is to lose political freedom and to become enslaved to other men. He wants us to forget that the greatest evil is to be enslaved to sin, death, and Hell! He wants us to disregard the fact that the greatest freedom has never come through men and governments, but only through Jesus Christ!
In his letters to the Corinthians and the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encouraged slaves who had become Christians to exercise their freedom in Christ—not by declaring themselves free from their masters, but by remaining faithful slaves to their masters (cf. 1Corinthians 7:17-24 / Ephesians 6:5).
Forty years ago civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, announced that he had been to the mountain, declaring that he was “free at last!” But the Son of God has been to Mount Calvary to die for our sins, and declares to us that we are FREE INDEED!
Our beginning is a reminder. The words of Jesus remind us that we were once totally enslaved to sin, and bound to death and Hell. Last week another pastor and I were trout fishing in the upper peninsula of Michigan. He caught a brook trout on a single hook. When he brought it up on the shore the fish flipped about until it managed to free itself from the hook. In his sermon the next day Pastor Starke made the point that we are totally unable to free ourselves from our bondage to sin unlike the way the trout freed itself.
Let’s take this illustration a bit further. Fish don’t think, they simply react. But natural man thinks and then acts like the poor fish! Natural man constantly flips about on this earth as if he can work himself loose from the deadly hook of Hell. He thinks that by his religious actions—his sweat and zeal and his exercise of good will toward his neighbor—he can free himself from the death that works in him because of sin. But the word of truth declares that all such human efforts are useless.
Romans 5:12 tells us that sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have sinned. Ephesians 2 declares that apart from Christ, all human beings are “dead in the trespasses and sins” that make us “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1,3). We cannot lift a finger to free ourselves from sin’s death any more than the body in the coffin can lift a finger. We are not like that first trout that was barely hooked. We are like the trout we caught later that had swallowed two treble hooks. Those six hooks had the fish in death’s grip. The more it struggled on its own to free itself, the more tangled in death it became. The hymn writer says it all:
Through all man’s pow’rs corruption creeps,
and him in dreadful bondage keeps;
In guilt he draws his infant breath
and reaps its fruits of woe and death.
From hearts depraved, to evil prone,
flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone;
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
nor seeks nor finds it heav’nly goal.
But Christ, the second Adam, came
to bear our sin and woe and shame,
to be our Life, our Light, our Way,
Our only Hope, our only Stay.
But we need to continue in Christ’s Word that sets us free. Ever since the Lutheran Reformation 500 years ago, Protestants the world over have celebrated their freedom from the Roman Papacy. But many protestant faiths have accused confessional Lutherans of being “enslaved to a paper pope” because of our emphasis on faithfulness to God’s Word. Our answer: “Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, does the same in words such as these: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [vv.31-32]
Jesus spoke to those who “believed” because of the Word He preached to them. But to have and hold their freedom in Him they must continue in His Word. These Jews believed in Jesus only superficially and weakly. Like so many today, they believed in Jesus, even confessing that He is the Son of God, their Savior; but they still felt that they contributed something to their own salvation by their works of obedience to the commandments.
These Jews, may have rejoiced on hearing that their sins were forgiven, but they did not yet know about Christ’s Word concerning the Lord’s Supper, or the many other teachings of Christ that support His message of grace and forgiveness. In fact, when Jesus hastens to point out that apart from His Word they cannot be truly ”set free” spiritually and eternally, they quickly returned to the Devil’s hook! Fleshly pride in being the physical descendants of Abraham set aside the Word which sets men free.
Even after our conversion to Christ, our sinful flesh is still totally enslaved to the rule of the Devil as Paul writes in Romans: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s aw; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7:22-23 NIV)
Because of his death grip on our flesh the Devil turns us every which way but loose in this life! We confessed our sins today and received the assurance of forgiveness! We have no intention of sinning ever again. Yet, we will sin again. So we must continue in Christ’s Word.
The Devil turns us every which way but loose! We rightly declare our freedom in Christ to make use of all created things to His glory. But the Devil is always urging us to abuse our freedom. He encourages us to eat too much food, drink alcohol, smoke, and enjoy everything to the max as he strives through the flesh and the world to make us slaves of every earthly pleasure!
The Devil turns us every which way but loose! We are so enslaved to sin that even when we recognize false religion as we ought, we are always in danger of self-righteous pride, which can lead us back to death!
The Devil turns us every way but loose Whenever we identify sin in others, the Devil is right there to judge and condemn without mercy.
I have relatives in Minnesota who left the Lutheran Church 40 years ago because their church changed hymnals. They declared themselves “free” from their church, but didn’t realize that they were enslaved to religious form. Now they belong to a church body that enslaves its members to the works of the Law and rejects the offering of pure grace and forgiveness in the Sacraments. They are in danger of losing the Truth which makes us free through the righteousness of God’s Son alone!
Paul writes in Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). We need to stand firm in His Word, and not be hooked again by religious forms and pharisaic fervor!
In God’s Son we are “free indeed.” He went to Mount Calvary to win our freedom from sin, death, and the power of Hell by sacrificing Himself for the sins of the world. He sent out His disciples, and still does, with the command to proclaim His Gospel grace to all the world and to teach all things whatsoever He has commanded (cf. Matthew 18:18-20) so that believers may continue in His Word that sets us free.
This is my God-given privilege as your pastor. While I was absent from you earlier this summer, you were reminded of your freedom in Christ by other privileged men from this pulpit.
During that time I had the opportunity to proclaim our freedom in a sermon to the brethren in St. Louis and to a couple of confused souls along the way. At the CLC Convention we celebrated 50 years of continuing in Christ’s Word. We were reminded over and over again that by God’s redeeming grace alone we proclaim—in this country and overseas—the truth which makes us free indeed.
On the return home I had the joy of administering the Lord’s Supper to isolated Christians in Kentucky that they too might once again rejoice in their freedom through the visible Word.
All praise to the Son of God for the Truth which makes us free from the power of sin, death, and Hell no matter how “enslaved” we may think ourselves in other areas of our lives! If the Son of God sets us free, then we are free indeed—free from sin, death, Hell, and every evil as the Son draws us continually to Himself!
I released my fish so that it might not die, but live. This was no easy task, since the hooks of death held it in a panic. With every flip of its tail it worsened its condition. But I held it firmly in one hand and carefully removed the deeply embedded hooks with a surgical scissor so that it might live.
So also our Lord Jesus would hold onto us by His powerful, life-giving Word, convincing us by His Word of truth regarding our total helplessness and then removing our sins and the hook of Hell from us.
Long ago on the mount and by the open tomb, God declared that through His Son we are “free.” Since then, with a firm, yet gentle hand, our Good Shepherd restores us to life with every pronouncement of forgiveness from His Word.
He takes us up in His hands and performs the soul-saving surgery whenever He reminds us in His word that He loves and cares for us always.
“Who will deliver [us] from this body of death? [We] thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25). May we never leave the green pastures and the still waters of His Word, but continue in it until the day when we stand with Him in glory—free forever. free indeed! Amen
Editor’s Note: This is the first sermon contribution to Ministry By Mail by Pastor Vance Fossum. Pastor Fossum was added to the Ministry By Mail staff at this summer’s Convention. We welcome Pastor Fossum to our staff and thank him for serving with the Gospel!
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.